aIf I had to hazard a guess, I would say that winter is over for the Eastern Sierra. This doesn’t mean that we won’t get some more snow before spring sets in, but I think the major effects of El Niño are behind us. Most of the moist plumes of weather rode over the top of us and drenched Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. That said, I had hoped we would have at least a “normal” winter this season and normal is what we received. Crowley Lake and the Bridgeport Reservoir have been rising steadily, I expect the Owens and the East Walker River systems to rise and flush out the algae and sediment that was so prevalent last summer. I checked out the East Walker last weekend and the river is flowing nicely and the clarity is good. However, I wouldn’t recommend fishing it, yet. The flows are fluctuating wildly. I would wait until the releases from the reservoir stabilize and the flows hold steady at 100 cfs or higher. The optimum flows are in the 200-300 cfs range, but we’ll see if we can get that high this season. Anyway….. fishing has been fantastic all winter long and it will only continue to get better as we near summer. Get out there and have a great weekend!
Upper Owens River
The river is changing…. big rainbows can still be found here and there but I believe a lot of fish are moving back into Crowley Lake. The reservoir has broken up and is ice free, the fish can breathe again in the lake and not be starved for oxygen. The numbers of fish being hooked are decreasing. It could be that these trout are getting wiser as the winter ambles on, who knows? They’ve been getting pounded by anglers day after day, week after week. Usually deep snowfall provides a natural barrier for most fisherman and the trout are protected by their remoteness and swim around with some refuge and solitude. With the lack of snow along the river system, access is easy, and fisherman have been fighting tooth and nail for the opportunity to hook into large fish.
The flows are running a steady 42 cfs and the water is pretty clear, so you need to fish with some stealth. Walk quietly along the river banks, watch where your shadow casts upon the water, and keep a lower profile. The fish are spooky with the low, clear water. You are not going to get high numbers of fish but the trout you hook into are large, very large. The water temperatures are cold, so you can expect to find the nice rainbows in the tail outs. Look for deep buckets. Try copper johns, san juans, and pheasant tails. Vary the color, some days pink is the ticket, other times it is red. They like the bright colors. Make sure you are getting your nymph rigs deep enough. A combination of enough split shot and setting your indicator deep enough is the trick. The key is patience. Keep grinding away on a run. Keep the faith. Again, they’re in there. Make sure you are covering a tail out thoroughly, start your drifts near and end far. The fish are lethargic. Putting your bugs right in front of their faces is the key to success. Good luck out there, stay warm, and beware of bottomless muck along the dirt roads. They are soggy from the recent storm.
Lower Owens River
I would have to say that all in all, the fishing has been steadily improving, but that said, one day it is stellar, the next it seems like you are casting to empty water. The afternoon baetis hatch has returned. Look for rise forms in the foam lines and start hucking out small bwo patterns, size 18. Comparaduns have been working better for me than your straight bwo dry fly patterns such as a Parachute Adams. Bug patterns that sit within or below the film rather than perched atop has been the ticket. The stream flows are holding steady at about 100 cfs. The wading is still easy but the water is cold. The fish are seeking the quiet water along seams and the deeper buckets below tail outs. For indicator nymphing, tie on black zebra midges in the mornings then make a bug adjustment as the temperatures rise. Go for something in the baetis family next. Red San Juan worms have been working well when the “normal” bug array are not stimulating grabs. And there is the odd caddis cruising around to add to the confusion. The grabs are subtle and lethargic. Yarn indicators work great this time of year. Not only do they land softly but more importantly, you can detect even the softest takes.